Is This the World’s Greenest Home?

Out in the high desert outside of Bend, Oregon, sits perhaps the most extraordinarily designed home ever built in the United States. Desert Rain is a five-building residential compound consisting of three residential units—and they’re currently the greenest houses in America.


The architectural project is the first residential compound in the world to be certified under the hyper-strict Living Building Challenge, as well as carrying certifications of LEED Platinum and Earth Advantage Platinum. How green is Desert Rain? To start, it makes more energy than it consumes. That’s pretty green.


This one-of-a-kind project was built as an experiment by Oregon-based Tozer Design to demonstrate the viability of sustainable and resilient communities. Lead designer Al Tozer Jr. designed Desert Rain with shades of the southwest desert as well as the home’s current location in the wilds of Oregon. Owners Tom Elliot and Barbara Scott first simply wanted to design and build a LEED-certified home that employed green technology. But they were later catalyzed by the Living Building Challenge to build the compound that would eventually become Desert Rain.



Inventing the Future Home


Inventing the Future HomeThe boundaries set by the Living Building Challenge meant a complete re-design of the project by Tozer. While a LEED certification is extreme, the Living Building Challenge takes green design to another level.


The home had to be 100% net-zero energy, allow for 100% self-contained collection of rainwater, 100% processing of waste water, and carbon neutral. The project could not contain any materials from what its organizers dub “The Red List,” consisting of dangerous substances like asbestos, mercury, and lead. But the list also includes some chemicals that are widely used in home construction including an ingredient in nearly all plastic water pipes as well as a common welding element. That meant Tozer and his team not only had to surmount challenges; sometimes they had to invent their own solutions.


However, simply meeting the technical specifications of the Living Building Challenge isn’t enough. The certification also requires projects to maintain a human scale, nods to democracy and social justice, and carry a design that integrates beauty, spirit, inspiration, and education.

Only 49 other buildings worldwide have earned the certification, and Desert Rain is the first residential project to earn the distinction. The Desert Rain home has even inspired a book about its eight-year journey to fruition.



The Costs and Benefits of Sustainability


The Costs and Benefits of SustainabilityCreating this remarkable home also wasn’t easy, or cheap. Because of the complex nature of the experiment, Tozer had to assemble a network of sustainability experts, contractors, specialists, and landscape architects, not to mention sourcing the home’s unique materials. The eventual final price tag of Desert Rain is $3.48 million, roughly three times the cost of a new, high-end modern home in nearby Bend.


Desert Rain’s owners finally fully moved into the home in 2014. In Desert Rain’s first two years as a residence, its owners used nothing but water from their rain collection system, which is recycled in their 30,000-gallon cistern. The home also generated over 13,000 kilowatt hours of power, which is enough energy to power another home for a year.


Inspiring Others to Action



Inspiring Others to ActionFor its owners, Desert Rain is meant to be an inspiration; demonstrating to homeowners, designers, and builders that it really is possible to build a better, healthier, more sustainable home, as reflected by Barbara Scott’s recent comments to Oregon Public Broadcasting.


“I think if I were to do it again, I would do it in a way where people would look at it and say, ‘Wow, maybe I can do this.'”


Find out more about the Desert Rain House by visiting


Interested in a Solar Powered Air Conditioner? Here are the Pros and Cons

Air conditioning comprises a huge portion of American energy costs. According to the federal government, American consumers spend $29 billion dollars per year regulating the temperature of their homes, pumping 117 million metric tons of atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide into the air in the process. Solar powered air conditioners may be an alternative to the expensive, fossil fuel-intensive conventional air conditioners. But are they a good option for your home? Let’s explore the pros and cons of solar powered air conditioners.



Pro: You may decrease your utility costs


The greatest thing about solar power is that it utilizes one of the most abundant natural resources we have. When you’re getting energy from the sun, it means you don’t have to pay for energy coming from some other source. You simply don’t need a power company to point some panels toward a giant ball of gas. According to Lennox, one solar powered AC could save you as much as 50 percent on your monthly energy bill.



Con: Some units may not work at night


One of the unfortunate things about solar power is that it utilizes one of the most abundant natural resources we have . . . for approximately half of the day every day. Battery-run units and models with energy storing capabilities can overcome the basic problem of utilizing energy from the sun overnight, but solar power’s nighttime challenges are stubborn. The basic fact is that most people like to have a cool home while they sleep.



Pro: Solar powered air conditioners may not be connected to the grid


If the energy storage function of your solar powered air conditioner works properly, it can do wonders for your energy lifestyle. As Green Builder Media points out, solar powered appliances are not necessarily connected to the grid. Thus, when storms knock down power lines, your solar powered air conditioner may not be affected.



Con: Not every state is solar friendly


Energy companies are threatened by solar power. The idea that people can independently store their own energy is an affront to utility companies’ core business model. As a result, several states, including Florida, have been slow on the uptake of solar. If your state has not passed legislation that makes it cost effective to install solar panels, it may be difficult to consider a solar powered air conditioner.


A Development Group is Planning a City Fueled 100 Percent By Solar Power. Here’s Everything You Need to Know.

Southwest Florida doesn’t have the reputation of its eastern counterpart. Of course, it is hard for any area of the country to compete with the beautiful beaches and vibrant culture of Miami in Dade County, but one development company is hoping to help Southwest Florida become a premiere destination. A real estate development firm called Kitson & Partners wants to build the kind of city that has never been built before. They want it to run on solar power alone, and they want to call it Babcock Ranch.



The city of tomorrow, tomorrow


The city of tomorrow tomorrowThe Babcock Ranch plans are incredibly ambitious. They want to build a city fueled entirely by the sun that is larger than the island of Manhattan. Babcock Ranch will have 18,000 homes, six million square feet of commerce, and ample space for trails, parks, and lakes—and K&P wants to build it over the course of just 25 years. Syd Kitson, chairman of the development group, said he wants to make Babcock Ranch the country’s most hikeable, bikeable, walkable city. Indeed, environmental friendliness is paramount for Babcock Ranch. Kitson said in this promotional video, “We take our stewardship responsibilities very seriously and have taken steps to ensure that the city of Babcock Ranch will exist in complete harmony with its surroundings.” The development of Babcock Ranch will be a fascinating challenge.



How will they do this?


How will they do thisBabcock Ranch will be the first city in America to be built on the sun. Of course, this doesn’t mean astronauts will attempt to set foot on a ball of gas that burns at 9900 degrees fahrenheit. It means that the cornerstone of Babcock Ranch will be the solar industry. Kitson has donated a plot of land that will host the FPL (Florida Power and Light Company) Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center. That 440-acre plant, the cornerstone of the town, will provide 74.5 megawatts of solar capacity to the people of Babcock Ranch.


As a Babcock Ranch fact sheet says, it makes sense to build a community around solar in Southwest Florida. “With its Southwest Florida location,” the sheet reads, “which has the state’s most intense sunlight, the solar plant will generate three to five percent more solar production.” Of course, for Babcock Ranch to work, government officials will have to be friendly to solar development, businesses and homeowners will have to buy in, and the solar plant will have to keep humming. But if Babcock Ranch can stay on track, Southwest Florida of 2040 could be the Southeast Florida of 2017.